Montenegro became the 29th member of the storied North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, on Monday, prompting congratulations from other member states and threats of reprisal from NATO’s long time opponent, Russia.
Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković marked the occasion by attending a State Department ceremony in Washington D.C., which he followed up by meeting with American Vice President Mike Pence at the White House. The Prime Minister did not meet with President Trump during his visit.
Like many other NATO nations, Montenegro is not currently spending the required two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, a requisite for all members that only five nations currently fulfill, but Marković explained to Pence that his nation has set into a motion a plan to reach that goal by 2024.
U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon commended Marković and his nation’s government for the decision to join the alliance, a significant departure from the tiny nation’s historically Russian friendly past. Montenegro, an ex-Yugoslav republic that once held Russia among its most important allies, has made dramatic shift toward the West, and now hopes to join the European Union as well. Shannon explained that Montenegro “should be commended … for asserting its sovereign right to choose its own alliances even in the face of concerted foreign pressure.”
“As President Trump said in his February 28th remarks to a joint session of Congress, ‘America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path,'” Shannon said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed those sentiments in his own statement, saying the addition of Montenegro will add to international peace and security.
(It) sends a signal to other states that seek membership that if a country truly reforms, if it promotes democracy, strengthen the rule of law, modernizes its armed forces, and contributes to our collective defense, it too can join the alliance,” he said.
The last nations to join NATO were Albania and Croatia in April of 2009.
Of course, Russia did not share in the celebration, as the NATO alliance was founded specifically to counter Russian aggression in 1949. Since then, NATO has participated in a number of military operations, but its original intent remains intact in the face of a reemergence of Russian aggression, emphasized by the military annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Last month, fourteen people were charged for their involvement in an attempted coup in Montenegro that was foiled in October of 2016. Two Russian operatives were among the implicated, Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, and are still at large. They are believed to have orchestrated the coup attempt from Serbia before returning to Russia. The Russia government has since denied any formal involvement in the incident.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a brief statement in response to Montenegro’s accession into NATO, threatening reprisal and doubling down on the Russian PR strategy of assuming the role of the victim, once more decrying an “anti-Russian” conspiracy of world leaders in Europe and the United States. You can read the full statement below:
On June 5, the procedure of Montenegro’s accession to NATO will be officially completed in Washington, DC.
We took notice of the latest volley of disinformation and propaganda clichés that Podgorica [The capital City of Montenegro] directed at Russia on the eve of this event.
The continued anti-Russian hysteria in Podgorica is only met with regret in Russia. Given the hostile line taken by Montenegro’s authorities, Russia reserves the right to take response measures on the basis of reciprocity. As in physics, in politics for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Montenegro is fully responsible for the current situation. In response to Montenegro’s unprovoked eagerness to join the EU’s anti-Russian sanctions in March 2014 the Russian Federation took symmetrical steps in August 2015.”
Image courtesy of the Atlantic Treaty Association